5 Steps for Properly Setting Buyers’ Expectations

Because the purchase experience has changed drastically in the past few years, the manner in which we set proper expectations for our homebuyers is crucial

By Bob Mirman

Honesty is the fastest way to prevent a mistake from turning into a failure.

— James Altucher

My favorite psych experiment of all time? Here it is…

During the trials following WWII, Nazis commonly used the “I was only following orders” defense for their atrocities. Some people believed the rigidity of the German culture was in part responsible for this ‘blind obedience.’

But was it blind? And is this level of obedience restricted to tightly structured cultures?

In 1963, Harvard social psychologist Stanley Milgram asked naïve subjects to participate in a test to see if people could learn more efficiently when punished for their ‘errors.’ After being assigned the role of a teacher, the subject was required to teach word associations to the ‘learner’ in the adjoining room (who in reality was a collaborator of the experimenter). The teaching method, however, was unconventional: the subject-teacher was directed to administer increasingly higher electric shocks to the learner after each error.

Of course, the electric shocks were a fiction—a figment of the expectations set by the experimenter and by the screams coming from the ‘shocked’ collaborator who was visible through a window between rooms.

65 percent of the subjects continued increasing the shocks up to the highest level. Amazing.

Although obedience to authority was the primary focus of this experiment, the behavior of these subjects was also being impacted by the expectations set by the experimenter. Following the script, they instructed the subjects that “This is for the good of science,” or “The shocks aren’t really that painful.”

Now let’s consider the multiple authority figures presented to our homebuyers during the home purchase, particularly for naïve first time buyers. In fact, the purchase experience has changed so much in the past few years that even move-up buyers are looking for, and are anxious to receive, guidance and direction.

Consequently, the influence exerted by sales associates, design consultants, superintendents, service managers, and loan officers on buyers’ perceptions is constantly growing, in spite of increased information available to the buyer on the internet. The manner in which we set proper expectations for our homebuyers is absolutely crucial, especially when coming from the builder’s customer-facing managers who are absolutely perceived as authority figures by homebuyers.

In this third and final segment of this Managing Homebuyers’ Expectations series, let’s consider five key steps for properly setting buyers’ expectations:

1. Sales Associates: when desperate to make the sale, avoid making inferred or overt promises that you know will be hard to achieve by the team members following in your wake. Even your neutral statement “Let me see if that is possible” is ALMOST ALWAYS interpreted as “Probably yes.”

2. Start setting realistic expectations as the contract is being signed. Be prepared for the inevitable “When can I move my family in?”

3. Aim to impress by your actions, not by your promises. Never promise that which you hope to achieve. Promise a little less and dazzle the buyer by exceeding your promise. (“We’ll have that repaired no later than next Thursday” knowing you will have it completed on Tuesday.)

4. Honesty. Transparency. Be the first to share bad news about delays, errors, vandalism, etc. Deal with the push-back now—it will only worsen as it festers. Communicate as if it were your best friend buying this home.

5. Construction and service managers must tell the sales team what to say and not to say about quality, home completion date, etc.

Remember: if you do not set expectations, your customers will set their own standards…and you will NOT be happy with their yardstick.

Bob Mirman is a psychologist and founder/CEO of 32-year old Eliant, the building industry’s largest firm specializing in managing the customer experience. He may be reached at contact@eliant.com.

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